Coping with Grief, Hope, I Am Adam Lanza's Mother by Liza Long, Mental Illness, NAMI, Parenting, Petition for Gun Control, Resources on How to help Children Cope, Sandy Hook shooting

We May Never Know Why

The heaviness in the heart can crush a person into hopelessness. When I see poems, graphics, blogs, and gun control petitions online, I know that people are trying to do something, make things better, say that enough is enough. 

Along with millions of others who watched the media coverage on the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary I share a heavy heart with thousands of others who posted their reactions on their blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Watching the waiting, the tears, and reporters everywhere brought up years old feelings. It took me back to a shooting in my home town, at the state office where my mother and a relative worked. 

It was a day like any other, and I was at work. When I passed the Watch Commander’s office, I overheard some  talk about a shooting at a local government building, the office where my mother worked.

I ran to my office, grabbed my car keys and tried to get through the two locked doors to the parking lot. The WC grabbed at my arm, tried to tell me not to go, or at least let someone drive me to the next city over. With a growl I insisted that he buzz open the doors. 

A throng of people packed the back parking lot of the state office. One hears all the whispers, “I hear one employee was shot…three…” You are there in a crowd, alone in your thoughts, almost at a panic. You work your way to the front, using your peace officer badge that you’re not supposed to use, but you need to know what happened. Now. Police officers hold you back, they don’t know much more, but they patiently tell you what they know. They try to get all the spouses, relatives, and children of the employees in one area.

Minutes tick by, police walk out of the building, one is wiping tears-a police officer who gave chase after the suspect was killed. You hear a bloodcurdling scream from inside the building. A spouse has identified her husband. People are crying, waiting for word about their loved ones, wondering if they will scream too. 

Media reporters thrust microphones into faces. I bat one away and see a relative near the building. My mother is safe, the perpetrator was killed she says. Several long minutes later, my mother appears. Days pass.Bits and pieces of what my mother saw, heard, did are verbalized. Years later, my mother does not feel safe, but she made progress through counseling. 

During the television coverage I went over to where my mother is staying. She was watching the coverage. I could see she had been crying. We hugged for a long time. 

Years later, every mass shooting brings the violence and irrationality of it all back for my mother and everyone of the employees, families and friends of those killed and injured several years ago. It brings it back to those in every similar situation. And it will for years. 

We may never know why a person commits horrible crimes. But, because we can’t explain the WHY? doesn’t mean we can’t do something to help prevent similar actions. 

We can try to understand the mental health system and the many breakdowns in the system, such as described by this mother, Liza Long, in “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”.

The reasons to the Why? are complex, but not impossible to prevent another tragedy. In my own small world, the ” do something” has been signing this petition asking President Obama and Congress to support legislation on the issue of gun control, such as that  introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband in a mass shooting in 1993, and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislation.

Here are more things you can do:

It may be several days before we know the Why? of this violence. For today, we can pray, we can petition, we can look for hope. 

Ancestors, Antepasados, Coping with Grief, Grief, Latino culture, Latino family tradition

Remembering Antepasados/Ancestors

My aunt, Tia Connie, decreed by the doctor to live for perhaps six more months, passed on a few days ago-a month after the pronouncement.  

It’s true that she had a long life, close to 88 years, on this side of the universe. But it’s also true that 88 years is not long enough for her family.

My mother’s sister, Concha, or Connie as she was known, was her only connection to the ancestors, antepasados , those who came before. 

It is like the ancestors held threads in their hands, to the past, present and future. First there was an abundance of bright colored threads, as strong as three ply twine, with numerous threads connecting and lengthening like an Aztec Codice. Because we did not have abuelos, our tio’s and tia’s were our ‘anchor’ threads.

Mom’s parents died when she and her younger sister were children, leaving her eldest sister a mother figure at 14 years of age, her second to oldest brother, of 15 years of age, the father figure. The eldest brother, 17 years old, enlisted in the Army when WW II commenced.  All of them gone now. Now only one of those anchor threads remain. 

The aloneness reverberates through my mother’s grief. On the afternoon of my aunt’s passing, I went over to my mother’s home to give her the unfortunate news. She tells me she ‘felt’ her sister pass that morning. Mom has been ill for a couple of weeks and wonders, out loud, how long she has left. There is fear in her voice. She says she’s not ready.

Her statements fill me with anxiety. I feel pressure in my stomach, a thumping in my chest. Mom is my only connection to my antepasados now. My biological father is still alive, a couple of years older than my mother, but I have never met him. I don’t have a grip, not even a fleeting touch to that side of my heritage. My hands and heart have always been firmly held in the Alvarado Gutierrez histories that now include several different surnames.

Part of the preparation for my aunt’s funeral has been the gathering of photographs from her own collection and my mothers. My cousins, two granddaughters and I comb through several large sticky paper photo albums. 

One of the books has a warning taped to the inside cover: “Don’t take these photos,” signed with the full name of my aunt. My aunt was a homemaker, single mom, working mom, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandma. She was simply “Nana” to the subsequent three generations.

Her photographs give a pictorial to her familial codex. Black and white photos from the 1940’-50’s of beautiful young sisters with cousins, friends, husbands and children fill one album, meticulously labeled with names. 

Polaroid snapshots, from the 60’s-70’s, mark birthdays, baptisms, and weddings. We travel through decades of fashionable clothing, hairstyles, automobiles, and living room furniture, stopping for family stories along the way. We remark at how young they and we once were-also thinner, and seemingly taller. Memories and laughter fill the air. Antepasados permeate these pictures.

The photo albums from the 80’s onward are dotted with grandchildren, grandnephews, great grand children and numerous school photographs, as she was a ParaEducator for the local elementary school district.  

Today my cousins have more funeral planning. I’ll help them write the obituary, order flowers, visit my mother, and then print out the last photograph I took of my mom and her sister two days before she passed on. 

We will gather together soon, at a velorio, wake, rosary and Mass in my tia’s honor. We will strengthen the threads of our lives, anchoring our children and children’s children, holding onto our families for what I hope is a very long time.